571 - でなくてなんだろう

It's N1, so let's get fancy:


JLPT N1: でなくてなんだろう (if this isn't..., then I don't know what is)

Next time you're writing a sweeping, epic novel or wowing your acolytes with an all-Japanese essay on the feasibility of hyperspace travel, be sure to throw in the phrase でなくてなんだろう for a bit of spice.

( ↑ In other words, only use でなくてなんだろう in flowery, written Japanese.)

This phrase means something along the lines of "if this isn't X, then I don't know what is."

A lengthy example:

彼女は事故で両腕を失った由真さんのために、仕事を辞めて介護の勉強を始めた。これが真の友情でなくてなんだろう
かのじょ は じこ で りょううで を うしなった ゆまさん の ために、 しごと を やめて かいご の べんきょう を はじめた。 これ が しん の ゆうじょう でなくてなんだろう。
She quit her job and started studying nursing for Yama-san after she lost both arms in an accident. If that’s not true friendship, then I don’t know what is.
Literally: “she + は + accident + で + both arms + を + lost + Yama-san + の + for the sake of (=ために), + job / work + を + quit (and) + nursing + の + studies + を + started. + this + が + true / genuine + の + friendship + でなくてなんだろう.”

So you take a NOUN that describes an abstract concept (e.g. "friendship").

Then you put it right before でなくてなんだろう.

That gives you:

NOUNでなくてなんだろう
if that's not NOUN, then I don't know what is

We saw:

これが真の友情でなくてなんだろう
これ が しん の ゆうじょう でなくてなんだろう。
If that’s not true friendship, then I don’t know what is.
Literally: “this (→ 'that' in the context of our example) + が + true / genuine + の + friendship + でなくてなんだろう.”


Note that technically speaking, でなくてなんだろう is saying "if that's not NOUN, then what is it?" But I thought the English "if that's not NOUN, then I don't know what is" matched up more nicely with our English translations.

Sometimes our translation will be nothing like this, though:


こんなにたくさんの人に誕生日を祝ってもらえるなんて、これが幸せでなくてなんだろう
こんなに たくさん の ひと に たんじょうび を いわって もらえる なんて、 これ が しあわせ でなくてなんだろう。
To think that there are so many people wishing me a happy birthday. Surely this is what it means to be happy.
Literally: “this much + many + の + person + に + birthday + を + celebrate (and) / congratulate (and) + can receive + なんて, + this + が + happiness + でなくてなんだろう.”

I was excited to learn this grammar point back in the day. Regrettably, I've had pretty much zero chances to use it over the years.

Maybe I need to write some Japanese fiction or something...


Fancy N1 Examples:


叔父はもう車を二台も持っているのに、三台目の車を買おうとしている。これが無駄遣いでなくてなんだろう
おじ は もう くるま を にだい も もっている のに、 さんだいめ の くるま を かおう と している。 これ が むだづかい でなくてなんだろう。
Even though my uncle already has two cars, he’s talking about buying a third one. If that’s not wasteful, then I don’t know what is.
Literally: “uncle + は + already + car + を + two (vehicles) + も + is having + although (=のに), + third (vehicle) + の + car + を + is trying to buy. + this + が + wasting / squandering + でなくてなんだろう.”


こんなに美しい歌声が、神様からの贈り物でなくてなんだろう
こんなに うつくしい うたごえ が、 かみさま から の おくりもの でなくてなんだろう。
Surely such a beautiful singing voice is nothing other than a gift from God.
Literally: “this much + beautiful + singing voice + が, + God + from + の + gift / present + でなくてなんだろう.”


If this isn't the end of the lesson, then I don't know what is.